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How to Clean Your Home Furnishings

Cleaning Decorative Objects

© 2006 Publications International, Ltd. Dip a chandelier's crystals into a drinking glass filled with cleaning solution.

Decorative objects often require the most care when cleaning because of their value and their fragility. Here are some suggestions for cleaning chandeliers, fabric flowers, pictures, and more.


One problem common to all candlesticks is dripped wax. Remove a hardened wax drip by gently pushing it off the candlestick with the balls of your fingers or by using a fingernail that has been covered with a thin cloth to prevent scratching the surface. If the wax resists these methods, dip the candlestick in warm water to soften the wax for removal, or if the candlestick cannot be immersed, the wax can be softened with warm air from a hair dryer.


Silver candlesticks that have wax dripped on them can be cleaned unharmed if you put them in the freezer first. After the wax freezes, it will peel off easily.


A chandelier can be cleaned without taking it down. Vacuum chandeliers thoroughly on a regular basis and before cleaning. In a drinking glass, mix a solution of 1/4 cup denatured alcohol and 3/4 cup water. Cover the floor or table under the chandelier with newspaper or plastic, and set up a ladder so that you can reach the pendants. Submerge the crystals in the glass for a few seconds, swishing them back and forth, and then let them air-dry.

Fabric Flowers

Delicate fabric blossoms collect dust and eventually look dingy unless you clean them regularly. Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the care of fabric flowers; some are washable, but many are not. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Remove dust with a vacuum cleaner set at low suction.
  • Wipe silk flowers with a sponge; don't wash them.
  • Dip washable flowers into a mild solution of dishwashing detergent only when other methods have failed. Hang the flowers by the stems to dry, or use a hair dryer.
  • Perk up slightly wilted flowers with steam from a tea kettle or an iron.
  • Some sturdy fabric flowers may be freshened when shaken in a paper bag with dry cut oats, cornmeal, or salt.


Paintings -- whether oil, acrylic, or watercolor -- require a minimum amount of care. If the painting becomes damaged, it should not be repaired or cleaned at home. Otherwise, you can clean paintings at home, using the following advice:

  • Vacuum the painting, frame, and glass regularly using the brush attachment. © 2006 Publications International, Ltd.Use your vacuum's brush attachment to clean paintings.
  • When you clean the glass over a painting, do not allow any moisture to get behind the glass.
  • Do not spray furniture polish directly on picture frames. Spray it on a cloth and then carefully apply the polish to the frame only.
  • To make a tarnished gilt frame gleam again, wipe it with a rag dampened with turpentine.


Alabaster looks like marble and is made into vases, statues, lamp bases, and other ornamental objects. It is fine grained but soft enough to be scratched with a fingernail. Alabaster is easily broken, soiled, and weathered and must be handled with care.

  • Dust alabaster frequently with a soft untreated cloth.
  • Caution: Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing fumes from these products.
  • Clean alabaster with borax; it is mild enough not to scratch the surface. Dip a moistened cloth into a small amount of dry borax, and rub it on the object. Rinse with warm water, and buff-dry with a soft cloth. You can also use this method to clean marble.

Bone and Ivory

Many useful and decorative objects are made of bone, including sword and knife handles and miniature carvings. Like ivory, it is an animal product and must be treated with special care. Ivory, an animal dentine, is used for ornamental objects and piano keys. Most "ivory" objects manufactured today are synthetic, because most countries ban the importation of ivory to protect endangered elephants. To clean bone and real ivory:

  • Dust frequently with a soft cloth or the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner.
  • Occasionally wash bone and ivory objects in mild soapsuds; rinse and buff.
  • Do not allow bone or ivory pieces that are cemented together to soak in water; the adhesive will loosen.
  • Never wash knives with bone or ivory handles in the dishwasher.
  • Keep ivory objects where light will reach them; continual darkness causes ivory to yellow.
  • When ivory begins to yellow, treat it with a lemon and salt mixture. Cut a lemon in half, dip it in salt, and rub it over the ivory surface. Let it dry, wipe the object with a cloth, and buff for a bright finish.


Jade is a beautiful stone that is used to make lamp bases, vases, carved ornaments, and jewelry. The color of jade ranges from white to dark green with occasional tints of brown, mauve, blue, yellow, red, gray, or black. Because jade is hard and not porous, very little care is required. Dust it regularly, and buff it with a soft cloth when it begins to look dull.


Marble is a beautiful polished form of limestone that is used for tabletops, floors, countertops, walls, steps, fireplace facings, and statuary. It comes in a variety of colors and has either a shiny or a matte finish. Marble used for floors, tabletops, countertops, and steps should be sealed with a special stone sealer to reduce its porosity.

  • Protect marble tabletops with coasters, and wipe up acidic food spills immediately to prevent permanent surface etching.
  • Wipe marble surfaces with a sponge to remove light soil. Do not use an abrasive or caustic cleaner on marble. Do not use oil polish or soft wax, because they will discolor the marble.
  • Commercial polishes, some of which are flammable, are available for cleaning marble. Read and follow the manufacturer's directions.


Porcelain and other types of clay are fashioned into many kinds of art objects, including vases, lamp bases, candlesticks, and statuary.

  • Dust porcelain regularly with the brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner or a clean, soft cloth.
  • If a porcelain object becomes dirty, wash it in mild soapsuds, using warm water.

Many homes are filled with wood furniture. In the next section, we'll tell you the best ways to take care of these objects.